Will Brexit lead to Scottish independence?

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The issue of a second Independence referendum is once again coming to prominence in Scotland.

The UK Tory government’s decision to pursue a “hard Brexit”, remove the UK from the European Single Market and end the free movement of labour puts it strongly in the opposite camp to the Scottish government, which favours both.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out a second independence referendum in the present year, but the pressure is building up to hold a vote in 2018. The most recent opinion poll, conducted by The Herald in Scotland, shows 49 percent in favour of independence with 51 percent opposed.

Around 800 people attended a Scottish Independence Convention in Glasgow on 14 January. The convention brought together a range of individuals from the Scottish National Party, Greens, radical left and independence activists. The aim was to build momentum for a second referendum and explore some of the issues that the independence movement will need to confront if it is to convince enough people in Scotland to vote yes.

In line with the Independence Convention the Common Weal think tank has produced a series of documents, named the “The White Paper Project”, to examine the “structures and systems of an Independent Scotland”. This seeks to deal with some of the difficult questions faced by the pro-independence campaign in the last referendum, such as what currency Scotland would use after independence, what happens to the UK’s common assets and what should be done about a border with the rest of the UK.

All this is to be welcomed, but there remain major obstacles to overcome if a second independence campaign is to be successful.

To begin with, the timetable and nature of any future campaign remains firmly in the control of the SNP. So any campaign fronted by them will have independence in Europe at its heart. The SNP support for the free movement of people is positive, but unfortunately its support for the Single European Market, though superficially attractive to many SNP supporters, exposes the party’s attachment to business and neoliberal capitalism.

This has brought it into conflict with unions in Scotland. The RMT has been in almost constant conflict with the Scottish government over safety issues and conditions on the railways, and has had to mount a bitter campaign to win minimum wage rates for non-EU nationals working on the Northern Isle Seatruck Ferry Service.

The SNP’s support for the EU also puts it in conflict with many of its own supporters, with up to a third having voted for the UK to leave the EU.

There is also the major issue of the Scottish government’s continuing refusal to confront the Tories’ cuts and austerity agenda. The SNP’s latest budget proposals have created a degree of controversy. These include a proposal to give £240 million to councils in order to fund improved pupil attainment in Scottish schools and improve social care.

However, no amount of spin from the SNP can hide the fact that serious cuts to council spending will occur because of the overall budget cuts. Glasgow alone will need to save £50 million in the coming year.

The Labour Party in Scotland has attacked the SNP over austerity. However, due to Labour’s own involvement, historically and currently, in cutting council budgets, it lacks any serious credibility as an opposition to the SNP. A recent visit to Glasgow by Jeremy Corbyn led to him having to face a demonstration by striking ICT workers in the city fighting the proposed privatisation of their service by the Labour-controlled city council.

Labour’s record in Scotland will almost certainly see it wiped out in the local council elections taking place in May.

All of this poses major contradictions for an independence movement led by the SNP. On the one hand, independence continues to remain popular in the working class communities across Scotland most affected by austerity. On the other hand, the SNP government’s insistence on “financial responsibility” means the very people on which support for independence depends have suffered the most.

The real challenge for the independence movement is how to connect its fine words in opposing the Tories into the mobilisation of forces which can mount real resistance to austerity and cuts. Up to now many in the leadership of the movement have shown little interest in doing this.

Anti-Trump protests in Scotland have been popular, with large demonstrations taking place in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Opposition to racism and support for refugees are widespread and there is almost universal opposition to Theresa May’s offer of a UK state visit to the US president.

Condemnation of this by the Scottish government means that Trump will almost certainly not visit Scotland when he comes to the UK.

Opposition to Trump comes from diverse sections of the political spectrum in Scotland, and there is no doubt this deepens the commitment of many to campaign for a yes vote in Indy Ref 2.